Teams Phone System: Back to Call Feature Drawing Board
Since Microsoft dubbed Teams heir apparent to the UC throne, we've been in an awkward interim period in which the app's Phone System add-on has one set of telephony call features, Skype for Business Online Phone System has another, and Skype for Business Server Enterprise Voice yet another.
It's awkward in part because this time last year Skype for Business Online Phone System (then called Cloud PBX) was in much the same spot as Teams is in today. Positioned as the centerpiece of Microsoft's UC strategy, Cloud PBX had a small but growing set of telephony features. And a full decade ago an ancestor of Skype for Business Server underwent the same messaging app-to-telephony solution transformation.
With three separate telephony solutions now in Microsoft's portfolio, let's geek out on PBX features and try to get a better feel for which offer what. Because even under its current product development trajectory, Teams Phone System won't be on par with Skype for Business calling, of either the Online or Server variety, for quite some time.
Reading the Roadmap
The best source of information about Teams Phone System call features isn't the most obvious. While Microsoft's mid-December blog, from Paul Cannon, a senior product marketing manager, is undoubtedly informative, it omits a number of features -- such as call blocking, E911, and support for existing calling plans -- that the Teams roadmap indicated would be delivered by the end of last year. Better to check the Office 365 Roadmap site, which on Dec. 28, 2017, quietly moved all Teams Phone System call features scheduled for late 2017 delivery from "in development" to "launched" (see list at right).
So by all appearances Microsoft is right on track. The first batch of call features that were supposed to be added by now have been added. Reading Paul's blog closely even reveals a bonus feature. Microsoft hadn't called out call history in either the Teams roadmap document or the Office 365 roadmap site, but according to Paul it's now available in Teams.
Not slipping on deliverables is a good -- even vital -- sign. Microsoft's UC aspirations hang on a service that, until the past few weeks, had no telephony capabilities whatsoever. It's as important that Microsoft adheres to its Phone System R&D promises as it is that the company stops completely reworking its UC strategy every 18 to 24 months.
Comparing Call Features
But how does Teams Phone System's nascent set of call features compare with those in Microsoft's other UC solutions? How close is Teams to feature parity with them now? And where will things stand if Microsoft continues to fulfill promises made in the Teams roadmap?
I haven't been able to find anything that directly compares the three solutions' call features. In fact, it's surprisingly difficult to find a single document from Microsoft that provides a comprehensive, up-to-date list of call features in either of the Skype for Business offerings.
Skype for Business Online Phone System's product page lists its features, and the admin guide provides more detail. But both seem to be incomplete. For example, auto-attendant and call queues are listed in the latter, but not the former despite their being introduced almost a year ago. And it looks like TTY, forward to group, and caller ID masking -- each of which either is or soon will be part of Teams Phone System -- are supported in Skype for Business Online, despite not being called out on the product page.
And I'll be darned if I can find an up-to-date list of Skype for Business Server Enterprise Voice features. I'm sure it's floating around on TechNet somewhere, but so is a lot of very dated data... from 2010, 2009, and earlier.
|Native support for:||Teams Phone System||SfB Online Phone System||SfB Server Enterprise Voice|
|Caller ID masking||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Do not disturb||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|User input to standard phone #||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Support existing calling plan||Yes||No||Yes|
|SfB-Teams calling||1:1 now; 1:many on Teams roadmap||1:1 now; 1:many on Teams roadmap||1:1 now; 1:many on Teams roadmap|
|Skype consumer federated calling||No; expected mid-2018||Yes||Yes|
|Boss/delegate||No; expected mid-2018||Yes||Yes|
|Call queues||No; expected mid-2018||Yes||Yes|
|Consultative transfer||No; expected mid-2018||Yes||Yes|
|Do not disturb breakthrough||Yes||Yes|
|Distinctive ring||No; expected mid-2018||Yes||Yes|
|1:1 to group call escalation||No; expected mid-2018||Yes||Yes|
|Forward to group||No; expected mid-2018||Yes||Yes|
|Auto-attendant||No; expected mid-2018||Yes||Yes|
|Transfer call to PSTN number||No; expected mid-2018||Yes||Yes|
|Out of office support||No; expected mid-2018||Yes||Yes|
|IP phones||No; expected mid-2018||Yes||Yes|
|USB devices||No; expected mid-2018||Yes||Yes|
|Call park||No; expected late 2018||No||Yes|
|Group call pickup||No; expected late 2018||Yes||Yes|
|Location-based routing||No; expected late 2018||No||Yes|
|Shared line appearance||No; expected late 2018||No||Yes|
|Caller ID display||No||Yes, for internal SfB calls||Yes, for internal SfB and external PSTN calls|
|Enterprise calendar call routing||No||Yes||Yes|
|Music on hold||No||Yes||Yes|
|Video call monitor||No||Yes||Yes|
|Time of day routing||No||Yes||Yes|
|Common area phones||No||Yes, with license||Yes, without license|
|Third-party PBX integration||No||Not native, but possible with Cloud Connector Edition||Yes|
|Third-party attendant console||No||Yes||Yes|
|Third-party CRM integration||No||Yes||Yes|
As you can see, by the end of 2018 Teams Phone System promises to include many core call features currently in Skype for Business Online Phone System. In fact, Teams may include a number of features not in Skype for Business Online. For example, call park, location-based routing, and others don't seem to be included in Skype for Business Online Phone System. Some appear as 2017 deliverables in one or another iteration of the old Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX roadmap. But -- someone correct me if I'm wrong -- they weren't in fact delivered. Given that Phone System development efforts now center squarely on Teams, it would make complete sense if features that never quite made it into Skype for Business Online Phone System surface in Teams instead.
However, even if Microsoft adds everything on the roadmap, Teams will still lack a number of features currently in Skype for Business Online Phone System. These include camp-on, device switching, and music on hold. And it will likely be some time before Teams Phone System approaches feature parity with Skype for Business Server Enterprise Voice, which has a full decade of product development efforts backing its comparatively full call feature set.
All said, Teams Phone System is off to as good a start as Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX had a couple years ago. It has a small, but growing, set of call features that -- given time -- will allow its positioning as a viable UCaaS service. As it matures Skype for Business Online Phone System will likely suffice for the growing number of Office 365 customers looking for Microsoft-delivered UCaaS here and now.
Learn more about Microsoft's Skype for Business and Teams strategy at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Advanced Rate (deadline extended to Friday, Jan. 19!) or get a free Expo Plus pass.